Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Lessons We Learn

I've learned a lot of things over my 62 years but one lesson still guides me even after 50 years.

We'd move to Blackfoot, Idaho, when I was 10.  Across the street from our house was a family which by today's definition would function as gang-type.  A girl my age from down the street joined in on their antics and for some reason decided the new girl (me) would be the object of her harassment.  She would spit on me when I walked by, shove my bike over if I happened to ride by her, call me filthy names, etc.  Whatever she could do to make my life miserable, she did.  Now back then I was a fighter.  I didn't pick fights but then I never backed down.  But my father kept telling me to ignore her - she would eventually give up and forget about me.  No, she did not!  Finally, one night at dinner - we were eating stew and homemade bread as I remember - she was outside with the gang from across the street shouting filthy - and for those times - filthy things at our house.  
My dad put down his spoon, looked at me and said:  "Okay, Pat, finish your dinner and then go out there and beat the hell out of her."
Amazed, I said, "Really?"
He nodded.
My mother was having fits.  I was going to get hurt, what was my dad thinking, and finally okay Pat, do your best.
My two older sisters escorted me out the door to make sure the older members of the gang kept their distance.
I walked through the crowd and faced her.  She towered over me, shouting obscenities, shoving me, etc.  Finally, I got tired of her tirade and punched her square in the jaw.  Her mouth fell open, she screeched, and then she attacked.
It was an all out fight. I do remember thinking she fought unfairly as she grabbed handfuls of my dark hair and yanked - something my father would never allow.  But, all's fair in love and war and this was war.  She was sitting on me punching me as I grabbed both hands full of her thin blonde hair and yanked back.  Both sides of her head were immediately bald.  So surprised was I, I took time to look at my hands full of her hair.
The "gang" was screaming at me to get up and kill her! Why would they want me to kill their champion.
My sisters held them off.  
I bucked and rolled and she tumbled.  My turn on top, I was whaling the daylights out of her when I was lifted from her prone, screaming form by the neighbor lady, Mrs. Phelps, who was scolding us for being so shameful. 
My father came into the picture.  He defended my actions, and led me home.
Inside the house, he sat me in a chair and said, "Now, Pat, I want you to do something you won't like but I expect it of you."
"What?" I said.
A gentle look came over his face. "You're going to go down to her house and apologize."
"Are you crazy," I yelled. "She started it. She wouldn't leave me alone...."
"I know, sweetie," he said. "But you're a bigger person than she is, you have a bigger heart. Now go do what I told you."
"Will you come with me?"
"No," he said. "Some things you just have to do by yourself."
Rebellion seethed in my soul, but this was my daddy who I adored so I gathered my failing courage and started the long walk to her house, one step at a time.
When I neared her house, I could hear her screaming and crying at the top of her voice, yelling "my back is hurt, my back is hurt."
Did I kill her? Could I live with the idea that I'd hurt her for eternity. I swallowed a gulp and knocked at the door.
Her mother answered, a rather kind-faced person for the tyrant I knew her daughter to be.
I explained what I was there to do.  She looked surprised but led me to her still screaming daughter's room.
As I entered the room, the girl caught sight of me and the screaming immediately stopped.
"I came to apologize," I said. "I never meant to hurt you."
She took a deep breath and nodded then I left.

She was in my fifth grade class there in Blackfoot and for the first few months, her mother contrived to make the bald sides look normal.  I found the girl to be nice when away from her rowdy friends and though we were never close friends after that, we were at least pleasant to each other.
I learned early from my father, to fight for what I believe in but don't find joy in defeating others.  He is and was a wise person.  Love you Dad!.


Liz Flaherty said...

This reminds me of a kid in our neighborhood in the subdivision days. He was a pain and a bully and one time when he was at the house, I stepped outside and yelled at him in front of every kid in the neighborhood, ending with the order to get home. Humiliated, he left. Thing was, he was probably 9. I was 26.
When he was back at the house the next day--my kids couldn't cross the street, so our yard was a gathering place--I went out and apologized to him in front of everyone for losing my temper and yelling at him. He didn't become a choirboy overnight, but he never caused trouble in my yard again, and I'll never forget him saying--again in front of everyone-- "I'm sorry, too." Thanks for the reminder!

P.L. Parker said...

Great story Liz!